There are at least two ways of analyzing the Myers-Briggs / MBTI personality types. The first is the preferences approach, which involves exploring type dichotomies such as Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E), Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N), and so on. Another option—the functions approach—compares types with respect to their cognitive functions (e.g., Introverted Feeling). In this post, we’ll draw on both of these approaches to elucidate key similarities and differences between the INFP and ISFP personality types.
As is true with all type comparisons, there will always be points of exception within the general portraits we call “types.” For this reason, I typically advise readers to appreciate and think in terms of the overall image or gestalt of each type rather than dwelling on discrepant details.
While my approach to type descriptions is informed by decades of personal experience with these types, it’s also shaped by the observations of my typology forebearers—e.g., Carl Jung, David Keirsey, and Lenore Thomson—as well by type theory, which helps us conceptualize the preferences, functions, and function stacks that give rise to each type.
So without any further ado, let’s dive in!
INFP vs. ISFP Preferences
INFPs and ISFPs (collectively, “IFPs”) share three of four Myers-Briggs preferences—Introversion (I), Feeling (F) and Perceiving (P)—which account for many of their overlaps.
Especially in unfamiliar company, IFPs are typically rather reserved and happy to remain in the background. Neither type particularly relishes small talk or social conventions, instead preferring the company of close friends or family, where more intimate and authentic engagement can be enjoyed. IFP females, in particular, are typically demure in public spaces, although many are more assertive once behind closed doors.
In concert with the Enneagram 9 type, IFPs are inclined toward conflict avoidance. According to the Enneagram, this stems from a desire to maintain inner peace and equanimity. This disposes IFPs to withhold their opinion (especially publicly) and steer clear of people / problems they fear will disturb their tranquil inner waters. Some (though certainly not all) may also exhibit a sort of naïve optimism (as seen, for instance, in “The Innocent” archetype), which offers an added defense against disquieting feelings. It may also augment their already substantial capacity to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, particularly nature, children, and animals. IFPs are lovers of nature and animals to the core, and most will count motherhood among their highest priorities and greatest joys. In the same way that ITP business owners get fully engrossed in their work, IFP mothers invest deeply in all aspects of their children’s lives.
As indicated by their type acronyms, INFPs and ISFPs part ways when it comes to Intuition (N) and Sensing (S). But this doesn’t change the fact that IFPs’ possess similar signature strengths care of their dominant function—Introverted Feeling (Fi). Indeed, this realization led Carl Jung, the founding father of psychological types, to downplay IFP differences since, in his view, the dominant function captured the essential nature of a type.
Another notable type theorist, David Keirsey, saw S-N differences as more consequential. According to his type schema, S types are characteristically concrete and N types abstract, a difference which can’t be readily glossed over. I don’t disagree with Keirsey that S-N differences are critical, thus necessitating the ISFP-INFP distinction. But I also sympathize with Jung’s view of the dominant function being the most prominent and telling feature of a type. This is especially true for IFPs who’ve yet to develop their auxiliary function, which can make identification of their S-N preference more challenging.
Those looking for an overview of S-N differences are encouraged to peruse my post on Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S). For more extensive background and analysis, check out my book, My True Type. Here, we will reserve further commentary on S-N differences for our discussion of the functions, to which we will now turn.
INFP vs. ISFP Functions
As we’ve seen, INFPs and ISFPs both employ the same dominant function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), which gives rise to their myriad similarities. Fi engenders a deep concern for individuality and authenticity, as well as a robust empathy for children, the underserved, the disabled, etc. From the perspective of Fi, we are all fundamentally unique and valuable in our own way, making nourishment of and respect for individual differences of utmost importance. This stands in contrast with the extraverted version of Feeling (Fe), most notably seen in FJ types, where emphasis is assigned to shared rather than individual goals and values.
According to type theory, Fi is always paired with its opposite, Extraverted Thinking (Te), which serves as IFPs’ inferior function. If Introverted Thinking (Ti) represents an individual’s tacit logic, Te can be conceived as collective and explicit logic. Examples include codified laws, the scientific method, and standardized procedures of any sort.
The influence of Te can compel IFPs to seek career or academic credentials, to venerate math or science (and for many INFPs, science fiction), and to better organize their lives and work. While few INFPs fully accomplish the latter, I’ve known many ISFPs who are quite tidy and organized, for whom “everything has its place.” They may enlist any number of tools—spreadsheets, calendars, closet organizers, to-do lists, etc.—to impart a sense of order and Te competence in their lives.
The remaining two functions, occupying the auxiliary and tertiary positions, is where INFPs and ISFPs part ways. Indeed, it’s these functions that make them distinct types:
Because these functions fall in the middle of their function stacks, their strength and influence may be less obvious compared to types for whom they are dominant. So even though INFPs are more abstract (N) than ISFPs, for instance, both types are typically less abstract than INFJs, for whom Intuition is dominant. Indeed, it’s not unusual for IFPs to show a reasonable balance between the auxiliary and tertiary functions, with both types displaying a mixture of abstract and concrete interests. They differ when it comes to the particular manifestations of N and S, however, which we’ll now discuss.
Ne-Si vs. Se-Ni Differences
As Ne-Si types, INFPs tend toward bohemianism. Being an introverted function, Si is prone to material minimalism, finding contentment with rather basic provisions. This is reinforced by INFPs’ Extraverted Intuition (Ne), which prioritizes ideas and the imagination over status and material goods. The most voracious readers of all types, young INFPs often grow up reading fiction or poetry, which serves to feed and expand their burgeoning imaginations.
ISFPs, by contrast, use an extraverted form of Sensing (Se), and thus have greater appetite for novelty and in many cases, status, when it comes to their material existence. This, in combination with Fi’s penchant for personalization, can give rise to rather refined and sophisticated tastes. In this respect, ISFPs can seem more similar to INFJs (who also use Se and Ni, only in a different order) than to INFPs. Especially if raised in affluence, ISFPs may exhibit a taste for finery in many aspects of life. Even those with less ambitious taste tend to appreciate “nice things” and show greater concern for possessions or status than the average INFP. It’s not unusual to see ISFPs pairing with wealthy or otherwise successful extraverts. INFPs are drawn to extraverts as well, but they tend to place more weight on N compatibility (e.g., “Have you read Dickens?”).
Si-Se differences also manifest in IFPs’ stylistic and aesthetic choices. INFPs, for instance, are typically happy to go au naturel rather than adorn themselves with make-up and pricey jewelry—another example of their Si minimalism. This is particularly evident in Se cultures like the U.S. (in contrast to say, France) where generous application of cosmetics (not to mention cosmetic surgery) is commonplace. As Se users, ISFPs are more attuned and responsive to conventional beauty standards and customs. They’re also less innately repelled by the idea of beauty enhancers than INFPs seem to be. That said, because ISFPs’ Se is auxiliary and overseen by Fi, their overall aesthetic is almost always tasteful—attractive but not overdone.
Orchestrated by Fi, in combination with their respective S functions, INFPs and ISFPs both have their own sense of style. INFPs may appreciate being perceived as stylistically “different,” paying homage to the creative, whimsical, and/or subversive nature of their Fi-Ne functions. Insofar as Fi sees everyone as unique, ISFPs may also like the idea of being different even if their style, however tasteful, ends up looking more conventional.
Artistically, INFPs prioritize ideation and imagination, while ISFPs may place relatively more emphasis on performance or technique. In the 2021 season of the television vocal competition, The Voice, one of the judges—singer Arianna Grande (ISFP), herself a vocal maestro—can be seen frequently remarking on singers’ emotional authenticity (Fi), on the one hand, and their vocal technique (Se-Te) on the other. Another judge, John Legend (INFP), also consistently comments on Fi elements, but is willing to overlook certain technical shortcomings if he perceives a strong element of soulfulness or originality (Ne), commonly seen in singer – songwriters (in many cases, NFP types). INFP artist Ed Sheeran also debuts on the show and mirrors Legend in this respect. Talent level notwithstanding, the judges naturally gravitate to contestants who embody the values and preferences of their own personality type.
Of course, not all IFPs fancy themselves artists or performers, particularly those who are Enneagram Nines. In lieu of the arts, many take up work in the helping professions—be it as nurses, social workers, therapists, teachers, etc. In such fields, the two types can seem quite similar, conscientiously furnishing help and care (Fi) within a circumscribed framework of professional guidelines (Te). INFPs (especially INFP males) can occasionally seem restless or unreliable in such contexts, but both types are generally content and competent in their work as helpers.
While INFPs, as Intuitives, are somewhat more abstract than their Sensing counterparts, both types like to learn through experience. As P types, neither is opposed to trialing new experiences or life experiments on a whim. That said, INFPs are characteristically more experimental and open to new experiences, often poised to travel “off the beaten path,” even embracing what others might consider a nomadic lifestyle. That said, most eventually settle into a more stable living arrangement, especially once children enter the picture. Unless money is ample, their explorations also become more localized, marked by frequent visits to nearby art museums, farmers markets, state parks, and the like.
It’s easy to characterize INFPs as bohemian artists or wanderers. And for many, this characterization is surprisingly accurate, especially in early adulthood. But on its own, it fails to capture a large swath of INFPs who find comfort and contentment with family life and helping others. This brand of INFP can be harder to distinguish from ISFPs who’ve chosen a similar path.
Perhaps the most suitable archetype for ISFPs (especially those who are females) is that of Mother, or more broadly—Caregiver. But this doesn’t hold in all cases and characterizes some INFPs as well. This lends support to Jung’s view regarding the potency of the dominant function in generating similar values, interests, and orientations.
Due to the limited biological window afforded for childbearing, many IFPs will put their personal development on the backburner until midlife, where greater differentiation of their N and S functions, along with further Te development, becomes more feasible. Nevertheless, given adequate knowledge of Ne-Si and Se-Ni differences, distinguishing these two personality types is typically achievable earlier in life, even in childhood, despite their many similarities.
To learn more about INFPs and ISFPs—including their traits, preferences, functions, and paths to growth—be sure to explore our eBooks:
My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions
The 16 Personality Types: Profiles, Theory & Type Development
Very interesting perspective here Dr. Drenth! How would you differentiate Fi “care” for others from that of Fe?
It seems that Fi manifest itself more as the practice of interpersonal caregiving and concern vs. the broader social concerns for convention and policy of Fe. Is that correct?
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks for your comment and question. Fi is a nurturing and characteristically feminine function, commonly aligned with what’s sometimes called the “maternal instinct.” While certainly not uncaring, Fe is more masculine insofar as it’s more assertive and less concerned than Fi with personal feelings and sentiments. As you point out, it’s essentially more “social” or interpersonal in its concern for the health, morale, and functioning of groups or larger collectives. It can also manifest as a sort of general friendliness or sociability in accordance with cultural conventions.
This was a very well laid out article! Thank you. This is timely for me as I’m trying to help my lifelong friend who is an obvious Fi dominant, figure out the distinction for herself. She has a lot of stereotypical “J” qualities but very obviously leads with Fi so if we are only typing by dichotomies ISFP/ISFP are the only options so something has to give. I think her “J-Ness” can be attributed to Se/Te showing up as she is a career mom and is constantly on the go organizing her outer world. I am now looking to explore the unhealthy versions of each type (loops and grips) as that is how I distinguished mine.
A.J. Drenth says
I’m glad you enjoyed it Rhonda. It’s very common for IP “go-getters” to mistype as Judgers. See my post, Rethinking Judging & Perceiving in Introverts, for more on this.
A wonderful article!
I have plenty to potentially add, being an INFP who has been in relationship with an ISFP and who studies personality theory myself. I hope you don’t mind.
When you describe the Ne-Si vs Se-Ni differences, there are a couple things I’d like to clarify. You mention the INFP is prone to matetial minimalism, however in the previous discussion about their functions aiding how they organize their lives, it suggests that INFPs don’t always get around to implementing Te tools for physically maximizing their environments (& their stuff). So in a Tetris match, it’s likely the ISFP would supercede the INFP. I’d argue it would be close, but yes, the ISFP has keener skills in regards to maneuvering objects through space and speedily. ☺️
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A.J. Drenth says
Great stuff as usual Jennifer. While it’s not practical for me to address all of your observations here, I found your point about “doers” (ISFP) vs “analyzers” (INFP) apt, which is a good way of conceiving S-N differences. I also appreciated your comments about your propensity, as an INFP, for collecting old and “rare” things, as well as being reluctant to part with them, which nicely reflects your tertiary Si. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, NP (and SJ) types often show a penchant for thrift and antique shops, which they experience as profoundly nostalgic. Thanks again for sharing your keen reflections and observations.
Dan H says
It’s well-perceived for every ‘Personality Junkie’ that this website is unique with relentless update of ‘Famous/Celebrity’ at the end of almost every MBTI profile (although the ESTJ profile still hasn’t displayed any Famous/Celebrity names yet, I believe it would be filling gradually). Hope you would do some other Similarities-Differences (e.g. ISFJ vs INFJ, ESFP vs ENFP,…)
A.J. Drenth says
Hello Dan, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoy our celebrity type assignments. While I don’t consider it the essence of what we do, it’s nonetheless helpful to study real-life examples of the types.
Dawn Upham says
As a now “senior” INFP, I would agree that it was easier to lead and enjoy a nomadic lifestyle as a child and young adult (I am a military brat and vet). But as my own children grew up, it became very evident that constant moves were not good for their development–they needed roots in community far more than I ever did. They also needed my time and attention as their mother. To fulfill my needs, I volunteered for every school trip going as a parent escort when we were stationed in Germany. I was able to travel and also support my son who had special needs (and allow him to experience art and culture, too.)
The one trait my sons do share with me and my husband is our love of reading. As you stated, finding someone to share my life with came down to “does he like to read?” rather than “does he like material things?” I was not concerned so much with what he read but that he valued the act of reading and the need for peace and quiet while doing it.
I would also say that in my wanderings it has always been the people I met along the way and the meals I ate that I remember most.
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks so much Dawn for sharing your experiences as an INFP. I’m really glad you took the time to comment.
Hi Dr. Drenth – Your response to lightsynthesis’s about differentiating Fi vs Fe care was very insightful. A friend of mine displays strong concern for general friendliness and group morale, which is associated with Fe. However, his claim is that his Fi and his personal values compels him to value the group, which just seems like a stretch. Is there any justification in why someone high in Fi would display strong Fe, or is it likely just a mis-type? Thank you
For some time now, I’ve been curious about Fi dominant types. There’s a certain depth and beauty that radiates from them. Some of my favorite songs have been written by someone who I was struggling to type as either ISFP or INFP (hence part of my fascination, I think he’s INFP) but yeah, there’s something about Fi dominant types, a certain magic/beauty. If I may pick your brain? I’ve been curious about someone else … I can’t tell whether he’s ESFP or ISFP … They have the same functions in a different order right? I think he’s also an Enneagram 7 , he came to mind when I was reading the type 7 description in Riso’s book and I also suspect that he’s a HSS, both a highly sensitive person and a sensation seeker. How would I go about distinguishing between the two types? Thanks, as always, it was an engaging read.
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks so much Edde for your comment and question. Unfortunately, I’ll have to reserve answering your ESFP vs. ISFP question for a separate post, as it really deserves a lengthier discussion. Thanks in advance for your patience:)
I have some questions about these two types. Overall, do you think INFPs are more predisposed to doubt than ISFPs are? My other question is, do you think these two types differ at all in caretaking preferences? For example, I very much dislike physical caretaking because I don’t like being responsible for another’s physical well being, even a beloved family member, as it produces an obscene amount of anxiety, but emotional care taking(if it can be considered that at the level at which it’s happening) such as giving advice to friends and family, and just letting people vent to me is a non issue. Would there normally be a disparity between these two types and how they prefer to do their caretaking, or is it simply the act of caretaking itself that is fulfilling to these types, regardless of nature? Anyways, this article is incredibly thought provoking, thanks for your hard work!
A.J. Drenth says
Hey there Poe, Thanks for your questions. I do think INFPs are more disposed to doubt, as exploring hypothetical possibilities and alternatives is both a key feature of Ne and a pathway to doubt or questioning. In fact, I’ve written a post about how NP types deal with doubt and indecision. Regarding caretaking, it sounds like you may be a highly sensitive person and, as an N type, may be particular anxiety-prone around S matters, such as having someone else’s physical health in your hands. In the same way, an ISFP might struggle with being the caretaker of another’s psychospiritual (N) well-being. So yes there can be differences along these lines, although many IFPs will feel fairly comfortable handling both S and N caretaking.
Wow this has been so helpful. I have been casually reading Myers-Briggs stuff for a few years now and could never figure out where I land between ISFP and INFP, and this article has helped me understand how the two types are so similar. Now I can see more clearly who I am in this regard with a lot of confidence. Thanks!
A.J. Drenth says
You’re welcome Phil. I’m happy to hear your found in helpful.
This article is very informative. As a INFP, I felt very represented, especially concerning the struggle between keeping a nomadic life and choosing to settle down and having kids. I’m in mid-thirties and it looked like I was ready to settle, but nope, I feel unhappy and it looks like my wanderer persona wants to take off again. I feel my Fi-Ne is wrestling with my Si-Te, and the problem is that we have a social pressure (specially upon women) for a more conventional life (Si-Te). It’s like we are “forgiven” for our nomadic life in early twenties, but the older we get, less acceptable it becomes. I feel like I’m still learning how to fully embrace my Fi-Ne.
A.J. Drenth says
Thanks for sharing your struggles as an INFP so honestly Danuska. I’m sure many INFPs will relate and benefit from your comment.